Hatoyama will be tested early on N. Korea issues

by Ko Hirano

Kyodo News

PYONGYANG (Kyodo) North Korea will pose a major diplomatic challenge for Yukio Hatoyama when he takes office as prime minister on Wednesday.

Pyongyang will be paying close attention to how Hatoyama handles such issues as the nuclear standoff, the abductions of Japanese nationals and the North’s demand for compensation over Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Hatoyama is expected to coordinate policy on the North’s nuclear and missile issues when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, possibly later this month in the U.S.

Hatoyama also plans to discuss these matters at a summit with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao slated for October in China.

Recognizing that Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and missile launches constitute a threat to the peace and stability of Japan, Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan has agreed with its planned coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), that Japan “will stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and missiles in cooperation with the international community.”

In its latest move, North Korea said it has nearly completed enriching uranium, giving it a new way of developing nuclear weapons in addition to its known plutonium-based program.

North Korea has indicated it will only talk one on one with the U.S., not with Japan or South Korea, which are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Pyongyang dismisses the six-party talks involving China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the U.S. on denuclearizing the North as being “dead,” although Japan and the other members have repeatedly urged the North to return to the multilateral table.

“The United States threatens us with its nuclear (weapons). But we are able to maintain peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula because we have self-defense nuclear deterrence,” a senior North Korean official said.

Another Pyongyang official said: “We are happy to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But you cannot denuclearize the peninsula by only focusing on us. You have to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.”

Hatoyama’s diplomatic skills will also be tested on the contentious abduction issue.

The DPJ, SDP and Kokumin Shinto have agreed they will “make every effort” to resolve the dispute, which has prevented Japan and North Korea from normalizing diplomatic relations.

Song Il Ho, the North Korean ambassador for talks on normalizing relations with Japan, said the two countries can first consider studying a “benchmark” for settling the issue.

“Both sides have made contradictory claims, one side saying it has been settled but the other saying it has not been settled,” Song said in an interview Friday. “So I would expect (the two sides) to consider setting a benchmark that shows the measures by which (the abduction issue) can be resolved.”

Song said the agreement that the two countries struck in August 2008 in Shenyang, China, has become “invalid” due to Prime Minister Taro Aso’s “hostile” policy toward North Korea, including strengthened sanctions.

Under the Shenyang accord, North Korea was to reinvestigate the abduction cases of Japanese nationals as swiftly as possible and try to complete the probe by last autumn, while Japan was to ease sanctions once the reinvestigation started.

North Korea’s No. 2, Kim Yong Nam, called for “fruitful relations” with the incoming Hatoyama administration but said the future of bilateral ties will depend on how Tokyo tackles issues stemming from the 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

“If (Japan) respects the Pyongyang Declaration, seriously settles the unfortunate past based on it and resolves (other) issues of concern, while setting fruitful relations in political, economic, cultural and other areas that benefit both sides, (such initiatives) would not only match the wishes of the people in both countries but secure peace and stability in the Northeast Asia,” Kim said in an interview Thursday.

Kim, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, was referring to the declaration committing the two countries to work toward normalizing relations.